When art, politics, and ugly utility boxes collide

Artistic wraps on utility boxes can be more controversial than you’d expect—at least in the Township of Langley.

By Grace Kennedy | October 26, 2021 |6:00 am

Artistic wraps on utility boxes can be more controversial than you’d expect—at least in the Township of Langley. Fort Langley’s utility boxes have been scheduled for an artistic wrap, and Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel was considered as one of the potential artists.

Council normally leaves such decisions to an advisory committee. But in late September Rachel Cashato—executive director of the Fort Langley Project—emailed to request that council not allow Gabriel to be awarded the contract because Cashato said he had made “derogatory comments.” The Fort Langley Project operates a number of properties owned by Coun. Eric Woodward, and the basis for the request appeared to come from a now-settled lawsuit between Gabriel and Woodward. (A statement from Gabriel and Woodward in July said they “learned from the past dispute and today would handle things differently.” It also said “neither engaged in acts contrary to law.”)

Council had previously declined to get involved with the letter, and followed the existing process which saw one of the township’s advisory committees decide on the contract. However, a motion came before council last week to share the committee’s presentation with the public before a contract is awarded.

“This issue has gotten way too political,” said Coun. Kim Richter, who is a member of the committee. But while she said the public deserved to know what the process was for deciding a contract, her colleagues disagreed. Several spoke against weighing in on the decision.

“We do not get involved in these processes, because it leads to bias,” Coun. Petrina Arnason said. “It is not my job to try and undo something that has gone through a totally vetted process.” Her comments were met with applause and whoops by audience members in the council chambers.

The art contract has still yet to be awarded, although staff said the committee was close to a decision. Council voted not to bring a presentation to a future public meeting on the contract process, and will not make the decision on the contract. (Council is only required to approve contracts for projects that are not already included in the capital budget.)

Clarification: The second paragraph of this story has been updated to more accurately reflect what Rachel Cashato had said in her letter, and how the lawsuit was resolved.

Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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